Two men with the same name –


An identity switch with a purple robe?

And who is inside and who is outside?


I was just about to give up on the Barabbas episode in the New Testament when I read Pilate’s words as he washed his hands:


I am innocent from the blood of this righteous one; ye — ye shall see” (Matthew 27:24, Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)).


Ye shall see” ???


I asked myself, “Pilate, how will I see you are innocent?”


So I renewed my efforts.  It seems to me that there is something odd about the Barabbas episode.  Two men with the same name – “Jesus.”  An identity switch?   Maybe a story within the story?  A puzzle?


“Ye shall see” is translated differently in the King James Version (KJV):  “see ye to it.”  Different in the Catholic Confraternity Editionsee to it yourselves.”  Very different in the New International Version (NIV):  “It is your responsibility!


Well, maybe there is some idiomatic meaning in Greek that can justify these broader translations?  If so, “Ye shall see” is a play on words?  Or maybe the translators were just trying to come up with something that they thought would fit better? 


Google’s Greek (modern) to English translator says, “Hereafter ye shall see ye.”  No substitute for nearly twenty centuries of Bible scholarship I know.


Dear Reader, I think I should warn you that if you continue reading this post, without first carefully reading the Barabbas episode, you might miss the delight of finding a puzzle on your own.


You can read the Barabbas episode at  Matthew 27:15-31; Mark 15:6-20; Luke 23:8-25; John 18:28-40; John 19:1-16 (NIV 2011)  All on one page.  Other versions with a click.


OK, Pilate says “ye shall see.”  What am I supposed to see?  I see four clues:


CLUE 1 – Both Jesus and Barabbas have the same name!


Matthew 27:16-17 has “Jesus Barabbas.”  Well, I didn’t think much of that; after all, “Jesus” was a very common name in Jerusalem in the first century.


But later I saw on Wikipedia that “Barabbas” comes from “son of the father.”  Now I know that Wikipedia is not authoritative, but I happen to agree with that meaning.  “Abba” is an Aramaic word approximating “father” that Jesus used for his deity, and I’ve heard “bar” used in a name to mean “son of;” for example, “Yeshua bar Yosef” (Aramaic for Jesus son of Joseph).  The “s” ending on Barabbas is from a Greek ending denoting case.


So we have Jesus of Nazareth (or Jesus the Nazarene), who is called Messiah or Christ, and the Son of the Father.  (Jesus N)


And we have Jesus Barabbas, meaning Jesus, son of the father.  (Jesus B)


Well, maybe it doesn’t matter if both men have the same name and appellation.  Maybe this guy Jesus B just happened to be “son of the father”?  Maybe that was his real name.  But doesn’t it seem strange?


Is the similarity in name and appellation intentional on the part of the biblical authors, to steer the unsuspecting reader in a certain direction?


Both men stand accused of insurrection.


CLUE 2 – “Behold the man!”


Something very odd is happening in the Barabbas episode as “Jesus” is dressed in a fine purple robe.


Is this business with the robe a way of concealing identity? 


Pilate has Jesus tortured, but which Jesus?  Jesus N or Jesus B? 


Let’s recall that Pilate is quoted many times as saying that he thinks Jesus N is completely innocent of any crime.  Pilate is ruthless (mixing prisoners’ blood with their sacrifices on another occasion (Luke 13:1-2)).  Is he going to be a pushover for the crowd?  He didn’t become governor by being anything less than ruthless and clever.  Is he afraid of the crowd?  He is backed up by his soldiers.  And then there is the matter of his wife who tells him what to think about Jesus N “that innocent man.”  Some men actually listen to their wives.  Pilate who famously said, “What is truth?” is maybe capable of some monumental deceit?  Like switching Jesus N with Jesus B?  Is the crowd seduced by Pilate’s hand-washing and apparent acquiescence to their demand?


As part of the torture, the soldiers dress “Jesus” in a purple robe to “mock” him, pretending that he is a king.  Well, maybe there is no big secret here, just some soldiers being juvenile and cruel.


I re-read the passages pertaining to the torture – slaps to the face and repeated blows to the head (NIV 2011), and head would include face, indicating what? bruises or swelling on the face?  There is also the “crown of thorns” and in art Jesus is portrayed with blood running down his face from punctures in his scalp.  So maybe it would not have been so easy to recognize Jesus after this torture?


A particular Jesus with a crown of thorns and purple robe is brought out to the crowd by Pilate who says, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5 (KJV)).


But which Jesus is it?  Is it Jesus N or is it Jesus B?  We can’t tell.  His face is obscured with blood and his clothing is covered / replaced by a purple robe.


Luke makes this question even more interesting by having Jesus N visit King Herod who happens to be in town also.  Herod gives Jesus N a “gorgeous” robe to “mock” him.  While Luke does not have the torture scene with Pilate’s soldiers (only a threat? of it), the timeline is such that Jesus arrives back at Pilate’s wearing the Herod robe, right before the scene with the soldiers in the other accounts.  So I have to ask – would the soldiers take off a “gorgeous” Herod robe that would almost certainly trump anything they could come up with, and immediately put on a purple robe? 


All right, so maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges.  I am combining all four versions of the Gospel, reading them all together and maybe that won’t work?  Or maybe that’s the only way it can work?


If we factor in Herod’s robe, then it seems much more likely that the man tortured is Jesus B, as Jesus N was already wearing a fine robe.


Well, maybe there is no switch, no concealing identity.  Maybe the Gospel writers add the fine robes to signify that Jesus N is a spiritual king of some sort.  Or maybe it just happened that way, with both Herod and the soldiers doing the same sort of “mocking.”  Or maybe there is only one robe and the other robe is a mistake in the text.  Who knows?


However, there is precedent for a switch:  In the Hebrew Bible, Jacob for Esau, Leah for Rachel, one baby for another before Solomon.


Maybe the purple robe and crown of thorns recall Baruch 5:2-4 (New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal).  “Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name.  For God will show all the earth your splendor:  you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”  Addressed to Jerusalem but could be the Messiah?  Interesting that this Catholic translation is so different from the earlier Catholic Bible.  Instead of the Bible’s “God will clothe thee . . . . and will set a crown on thy head,” the cloak and crown are already in place.  How does “honor of piety” become “the glory of God’s worship”?  Which of these two very different translations is more accurate I wonder?  


I think the idea that Jesus’ face might have been obscured was a concern to Christians.  There is the prayer ritual, the “Stations of the Cross,” where “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,” wiping away the blood.  She reveals the face of the true Jesus.  Her name, Veronica, means “true.”  Thus, in this ritual, we envision the Savior’s face.  Veronica is not in the Gospel – but is a pious tradition that developed later.


Maybe the cloaked Jesus signifies that the Divine is hidden in each of us (Namaste!).


CLUE 3 – Pilate goes inside


This next clue is a stunner. 


After Pilate brings “Jesus” out to the crowd and says “Behold the man!” someone in the crowd tells Pilate that Jesus must die because “he claimed to be the Son of God.”  Then Pilate goes inside to talk to Jesus. 


The KJV says:  “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou?”  The NIV 2011 updates this with, “When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus.” (John 19:8-9).


and he went back inside the palace” !!!  INSIDE !!!


It doesn’t say Pilate took Jesus back inside with him so that they could have a private conversation.  It says Pilate went back inside.


So who’s that guy in the purple robe still standing outside?


Has Jesus N been waiting inside all along, wearing his gorgeous Herod robe?


Or not?  Maybe sometime in the past 2,000 years some words were lost from the text.  That’s all.


I suppose we have to consider the possibility that the Barabbas anomalies are the work of a mischievous editor or copyist.  Or maybe it is intended simply as entertainment, nothing deeper than that.


After more talking in John, Jesus is led or brought “out” or “outside” and most English translations at have it that way, but the KJV says Pilate “brought Jesus forth” and the 21st Century King James Version has the same going forth.  A Catholic Bible footnote for this passage tells me that possibly they were leaving the grounds for another location called the Pavement (“a courtyard outside the praetorium” (palace)). 


So whether “Jesus” is inside or still outside on what? maybe a porch, balcony, stoop, whatever, “Jesus” is led outside of the palace.  “Outside of” would be a better translation and would cover both situations:  (a) Jesus N inside or (b) Jesus N inside and Jesus B outside.


How’s this?  Jesus B is outside in the purple robe and is led outside of the palace grounds.  Jesus N is inside and later melts into the crowd.  We are primed for this eventuality by at least two previous instances where Jesus did this melting act:  John 8:59 (Jesus hid himself slipping away to escape stoning), and Luke 4:29-30 (mob wanted to hurl Jesus off a cliff “But he passing through the midst of them went his way,” (KJV).  Also, John 12:36 (Jesus left and hid himself).


The three Barabbas clues (purple robe, etc.) had an effect on this reader.  I was troubled to see the storyline I feel so familiar with and so comfortable with seemingly breaking up before me.  I am writing about the clues, but I don’t believe we are supposed to be constructing an alternative story from the clues.  Rather we are supposed to see the outline of a secondary or supplemental story.  This secondary story adds some depth to our experience of the main story.


I’m not sure what affect the hints of a switch are supposed to have on the reader.  One of my first reactions (after unease and exasperation) was the question, “Does it matter who is crucified?”  That depends on whether you think Jesus’ whole life had significance, or only the manner of his dying.  I asked myself how this could play out:  If God is capable of unconditional love, then God does not need a death to give us that love.  If God is the only power, nothing can keep us from experiencing that love.  If the divine presence is in each of us, then Jesus is a symbol of our humanity, not an exception (1 Corinthians 6:19, Colossians 1:26-27 (NIV 2011)).  Nevertheless, much of the New Testament would have to be re-written if Jesus N avoids the cross.


As we are wondering if Jesus N is switched with Jesus B, maybe we are supposed to remember Abraham, his attempt at human sacrifice, the switch with the ram, and adjust our thinking one step further.  (What does God need from us?)


Maybe not every thought in the New Testament is a conclusion.  Maybe some ideas are merely stepping stones to better ideas.  Some “old wine” is in there so that you can be eased into the “new wine” way of thinking?


This Barabbas episode is designed to get you thinking.


At some point in your spiritual development, the New Testament is not just a shelter but starts being a tool you can use as you begin to unfurl your wings?


CLUE 4 – The real Jesus


I take a look to see if any of the four versions of the Gospel tell me definitely which Jesus is which. 


Only Luke has an ending to the Barabbas episode which is unambiguous.  The others have a name or names which are common to both men (or no name depending on the translation) and so are inconclusive.  Luke says, “And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.” (Luke 23:25 (KJV)).  Jesus B is known to be a murderer.  Jesus N is not.


But I ask myself, how does Luke know which is which?  It doesn’t say!  Maybe Luke’s ending is simply that of a later editor “helpfully” making the story clearer. 


Only Pilate (and maybe a few of his soldiers) know which Jesus is which.  Only they know.  Not Luke.  Luke wasn’t there.


So this is a problem.


John gives us the solution.


John puts Mary, the Holy Mother of Jesus, and the “beloved” at the foot of the cross.


Mary is standing there at the cross because she knows it is her son Jesus.  She knows it is the real Jesus.  She is proof positive it is really Jesus.  She wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t him.  Also the “beloved” is an intimate and knows for sure.


John has Pilate put a sign on the cross saying, “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” (John 19:19 (YLT)).


Why do I believe John and not LukeJohn gives me reasons to believe, that is, he gives evidence within the context of the story – Mary was there and the sign on the cross was there.  Well, the sign could be a deception by Pilate and is therefore only significant in light of Mary’s vigil.  Of course, the books of the Gospel are not written like a history documentary you would see on TV.  All I am saying is that if I confine myself to the story and its elements, Mary seems to be the solution.


How wonderful that it is Mary’s consent in the beginning of the Gospel that brings Jesus to us and it is her vigil at the end that reveals him to us.  Later, it is Mary who helps catalyze the formation of the church by joining with others in prayer (Acts 1:14).


Does John prime us for the experience of losing track of Jesus by the passage “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me,” (John 16:16-22 (KJV)).  These words are repeated three times.  I’ll guess the repetition is supposed to signal us that something significant is about to happen (what?).  I’ll guess it is not just the resurrection or the second coming for which there are many other previews.  Repetitions in short succession may indicate a puzzle?


Once I recovered from the shock of finding hints of another story running in the background, and the shock of losing Jesus for even “a little while,” I must say he had a “Second Coming” in my mind in which I appreciate him even more (here I am observing my own reaction, being aware of my own awareness).  Such is the power of the Gospel writings, that the Jesus who is presented to us in them, can transcend even their unpredictability.


Do I have the correct interpretation of all this?  I sure don’t know!  I am not really satisfied with my interpretation of the Barabbas episode, only satisfied that I have a possible answer.  Possibly.  At the very least, I have expanded my own conscious awareness by going through this Barabbas exercise.


The author(s) of John would seem to relish identity puzzles; another example is references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20 (KJV)) and “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved.” (John 20:2 (KJV)).


Of course if Jesus N is the same as Jesus B, that is, they are both the same man, then Mary will be at the cross regardless.  But Jesus N is not a murderer and so cannot be Jesus B (the murderer).  But wait, John says “Barabbas was a robber” and says nothing about insurrection or murder.  Is Barabbas both A. a robber and B. a murderer, one or the other, or neither?  Neither?  If we see an obvious contradiction are we allowed to take out both A and B?  I have no idea.  If Barabbas is neither robber nor murderer, then Jesus B equals Jesus N.  But maybe we need to designate Jesus B-1 (robber) and Jesus B-2 (murderer).  The NIV has the translation “Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.” in lieu of “robber” in John.  Go figure.


Why have just one extra story in the background?  Why not two or more?  Why even have coherent story threads for these extras?  Just let the mind take as many detours as it will.  (And learn from it ???!!!)


Maybe the outline of a secondary story is to give the reader an impression of the enormous flexibility of the material world which can reorganize itself around a central event, such as the crucifixion??  From the perspective of Jesus N he had been dying on the cross but did not perceive himself to die; instead he is transitioned to another existence – in which he did not experience the crucifixion (another did in his place), thus he is still alive, but in a different material world or in a material world that has been rearranged around the central fact of his Being.  And therefore we have a non-linear time event in which Jesus N appears to die on the cross and Jesus B appears to die on the cross.  (Too much like science fiction?)


Maybe competing story lines prompt us to examine our own lives for new possibilities.  Maybe our lives can be re-invented.


Maybe even re-run with a few changes? !!!


Maybe every moment is an opportunity to transform my present, past and future?  Whoa!


Well, I don’t know what it could mean.  I give up.


It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.  Those organizations that translate the Bible so the texts will fit their own preconceived notions about dogma, homogeneity, or clarity are actually ruining the Bible experience for their readers, thwarting the intent of the original writers.  For example, if we are not told the name “Jesus Barabbas,” we do not ask “which Jesus?” when the story says, “then Jesus was led forth.”  Some interest, some excitement even, is lost.


So why do translators hide a word or relegate it to a footnote, and not give us the full translation?  In this case the name “Jesus Barabbas” is maybe a key word for understanding.  Are the translators trying to protect us?  From what?  Do they think they can write the text better than the original writers?  At least the NIV 2011 has printed “Jesus Barabbas” in the text (with the footnote: “Many manuscripts do not have Jesus”), letting the reader be fully cognizant.


Another possibility:  It has occurred to me that the interweaving of storylines in the Barabbas episode is a ploy to shield the authors and anyone else in possession of the texts, by discouraging accusations of blasphemy (misrepresenting or defaming the High God; for example, having it incarnated to die like a common criminal).  An essential precaution in an era of persecution.  A prosecutor who could not make a legal case as to which Jesus was which could not prevail.  Thus the tenuous switch in the Barabbas episode has no faith significance, only legal significance?  Now I must say I am pretty much clueless about first-century systems of law, but maybe, in court, a charge of blasphemy would crumble as prosecution lawyers confronted the purple robe. 


The story is written in such a way that we readers can know the truth of the matter, but maybe the lawyers would falter because they would have to go by their legal rules?


Another possibility I suppose is that the Gospel writers intentionally make the text and Jesus somewhat nebulous so students will not tend to idolize him, that is, make him into an idol to set before the High God, as Micah had an idol of silver to represent the Hebrew god. (Judges 17 (NIV 2011)).  Be that as it may, my feeling is that people do not harm themselves by worshipping a personal deity, even if they are less than fully aware that it is fashioned out of human understanding, and viewed through the filter of human understanding.


With this Barabbas episode, I am made very aware of the limits of my own understanding.


So, back to Pilate.  “Pilate, did you lie to me when you said, ‘I am innocent . . . . ye shall see!’”


I think I hear him say, “What is truth?” but maybe it’s only the wind whistling about the eaves.


It seems to me the only way Pilate could be innocent of killing the Jesus in the purple robe would be if he killed the other Jesus instead.  So put Jesus B in the purple robe (“behold the man”) and Jesus N inside.  Then Jesus N is led to execution.  A double switch?  A double deception!  Pilate changed his decision?  The text does not really support that hypothesis very well, but does not preclude it either.  Matthew and Mark maybe give small hints it could be so, because they both have the robe removed prior to leaving for the execution, implying that the masquerade is over.  Someone named “him” is led away to crucifixion, not necessarily the one “mocked.”  The NIV 2011 freely allows for two distinct persons through separate sentences.  (Matthew 27:31, Mark 15:20).  John mentions clothing at the crucifixion, but not a purple robe.


If I could read the original Greek text for myself, maybe I’d know what it’s all about.  This is frustrating.


Does it matter if Matthew has a “scarlet robe,” Mark a “purple robe,” Luke an “elegant robe,” and John a “purple robe” (NIV).  The YLT has respectively, “crimson cloak,”  “purple,” “gorgeous apparel,” “purple garment.”  The KJV has “scarlet robe,” “purple,” “gorgeous robe,” “purple robe.”  You get the idea.  Does it matter if it is purple or reddish?  In the Catholic version, Herod’s robe is “bright.”  Royalty is signified by “the purple.”  The blood of sacrifice by the crimson?  Did the writers of Matthew and Mark coordinate on the colors to get in both ideas?


The Barabbas episode is in all four versions of the Gospel, so it must be important.  The episode adds a profound instability to the text that at first I found unnerving, but ultimately thought quite positive in that it gives the reader a richer and more complex experience.  The finely woven layering of “what ifs” in the episode will not support the heavy weight of iron-clad dogmas, but will indeed provide inspiration and illumination for my journey.  It is indeed a “yoke” eminently wearable (Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV 2011)).


The Barabbas episode allows me to become more aware of various story elements, questions, issues.  It also allows me to gain a sense of freedom and detachment as the authors withdraw Jesus’ historical anchor and he goes mythological.  (His twin, Jesus B, is possibly actually historical, but I assume the authors knew what they were doing giving both men the same name.  It introduces doubt in historical authenticity.) 


With this sense of freedom, I gain a new relationship to the story.  As I perceive the story in a new way, I perceive myself in relation to the story in a new way.  I begin to discover more about myself.  Eventually discover myself? 


With the excitement I find in the Barabbas episode I am fully engaged with the story.  I say to myself.  This is fascinating.  Give me more!  Now I definitely have a different relationship to the story, and a deeper respect for the talents of the biblical authors and their nurturing attitude towards their readers.  I ask myself, “What was in the minds of these guys / gals who collaborated in constructing this marvelous spiritual exercise?  What are they doing to my mind?”


Some say the New Testament is simply poorly written and that explains the oddities, discrepancies, whatever.  I think text that has lasted for nearly two thousand years, presumably mostly intact, is a success.  Why not assume it was written very deliberately and with great deliberation, and has had exactly the affect on its readers it was intended to have?  Maybe this story is supposed to be experienced, not just enshrined.


The Barabbas episode ending in John seems so vague:  “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.” John 19:16 (KJV).  Couldn’t the writer(s) of John have been more specific?  (Next-generation community or group that produced The Book of John).


The NIV tries to clarify – it adds “Pilate” and deletes “Jesus” here.  “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” (NIV).  Go figure.  Why can’t a translator just say what it says?


What if I could ask the original writers what happened?  Jesus B or Jesus N?  What would they say?  Maybe this?


We are not going to lead you by the hand.  Tell you what to think.  If you have been journeying long enough so that you are able to detect our little puzzle, then you are ready.  You have our book.  It is not a Pharisaical prescription for belief, but rather a flexible framework within which you can find what you seek.  It is a road map, not the road or the destination.  Also, you have your own inner resources.  It is the time now for you to begin to decide for yourself what is true.”


Is there a puzzle?  Is there actually a secondary story running in the background?  Of course, I’m not sure.  If there is, I think it is not intended to detract in any way from the main story; rather, it may be a way of giving the reader a multidimensional experience, a sense of heightened awareness, or to convey an aura of mystery.  Or a way of catering to popular tastes at that time, or making the story more marketable.  However, I want to believe that the reader gathers some benefit from it.


We are drawn into the Gospel by the charismatic Jesus, but maybe the authors would rather have us become fixated on his message (God is with us), than become fixated on the particular details of the history of his life.  That part is “shifting sand” (Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV 2011)).  Instead, we should be building on the firm foundation of Jesus’ ideals of peace, love, and forgiveness.


Let me backpedal here.  For much of my life, before I realized both men were named Jesus-son-of-the-father, I thought the Barabbas episode was in the Gospel in order to instruct us in the ways of peace.  Jesus of Nazareth is accused of insurrection but is a man of peace.  Jesus Barabbas is also accused of insurrection, but is an example of how not to effect change (through murder and riot).  Despite everything I’ve said in this post, that’s still a possible explanation.  Maybe Jesus N is simply being contrasted with his evil twin, Jesus B.


Jesus comes upon Mary of Magdala weeping at the tomb of the one crucified.  Jesus says, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” (John 20:15 (KJV)). 


Who are you looking for?” ??? !!!


Who indeed!


5 Responses to BARABBAS – FOUR CLUES

  1. Human says:

    That is a very intriguing puzzle. If there were two Rs in Barabbas, it would mean Son of the Rabbis, which could imply another Jewish sect, instead of the Nazarenes.

  2. justiceworldwide says:

    Very interesting in its search for meaning. It’s a whole new world when you accept the fact that much religious writing is really metaphor, inviting the reader to search further.

  3. truleeyours says:

    As for Marys at the cross or away from the cross, Luke 23:49 says all those who knew Jesus stayed at a distance (most translations at Biblegateway say “all”). All would include Saint Mary. That may be a contradiction with John, or it may be the timing, first one place, then another. A crucifixion takes hours and observers can move around. So Saint Mary could have been closer and then moved away.

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